University Series 023 | Northeastern University

Join Operant Innovations as we talk with Dr. Laura Dudley about how Northeastern University is going out of their way to individualize their online program to each and every one of their students.

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Shauna Costello (00:00):

You're listening to opera innovations, a podcast brought to you by ABA technologies this week on the university series. We're talking with dr. Laura Dudley from Northeastern university in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Dudley has 20 years of experience working in the field of applied behavior analysis. She earned her MS from Northeastern university and completed her PhD in ABA through Simmons college. Dr. Dudley joins the department of counseling and applied educational psychology as director of applied behavior analysis programs and instructor. Dr. Dudley's research interests include experimental functional analysis of challenging behaviors, conditioned reinforcement, parent, and staff training, social skills, curriculum, and program development. Dr. Dudley has experienced designing, developing, implementing, and monitoring quality programs for children with autism and related disabilities within public school system.

Shauna Costello (01:02):

I am here with dr. Laura Dudley. Thank you so much for being here first off, and I'm going to pass it to her to give just a general overview of the program.

Dr. Laura Dudley (01:12):

Yeah. So thanks for having me Shauna. I'm happy to be here. Uh, so at Northeastern university, we have three graduate programs in applied behavior analysis. Uh, we have our master of science that has been around since 1976. So going on 44 ish years, that we've been around and it was one of the first master's degrees in applied behavior analysis in the country. It was founded by dr. Karen gold and, um, initially the master of science program fondly known as the MABA program was a program that was onsite at the Shriver center. And cohorts were kept very small. Oftentimes it was just three or four students in a cohort and it was very, um, applied and also research based. So, um, for many years in the program, there was a very rigorous, uh, research requirement as part of the program that would actually be comparable to, in my opinion, the requirements of a doctoral program today. Um, so many MABA grads who might listen to this would probably agree with me that rigor, um, was, was really, um, something that made the program very special and provided really, really phenomenal training for students who went through the program. So that's a little bit of a history of the MABA program in terms of its origins. After it was at an onsite program at the Shriver center, it then was an onsite program at the new England center for children. Um, dr. Morris Steadman was involved with the program and again, the cohorts were quite small. All of the classes were delivered at the new England center for children.

Dr. Laura Dudley (02:59):

That's actually where I was working, when I went through the MABA program, I graduated from the MABA program in 1997, and then the program expanded to the point where it was offered both at the new England center, as well as at the May Institute in Randolph mass. And it was an onsite program at both sites for a few years. And then for just a couple of years, it was an on ground program at Northeastern university until it became an, a fully online program in the fall of 2013. And we to this day are now a fully online program. So today we have a master of science, which is our largest and most popular program. We also have a certificate program that is a sort of accelerated route towards completing the coursework required to sit for the BCBA exam. And then we also have a CAGS program, which is a certificate of advanced graduate studies program. That includes the core courses of the certificate program, but then also students can elect to take courses in specialization areas. So one of the nice things about Northeastern university is that we have so many offerings at our university in terms of coursework and much of that coursework dovetails nicely with applied behavior analysis. So students who pursue the CAGS program might take specialization courses in early intervention or in public policy or in some other area related to applied behavior analysis. So those are the three program graduate programs, I should say that we offer today.

Shauna Costello (04:39):

I like the history that you gave because some people, you know, they know these names, but to know where they were and what programs they founded and to see where they are now is really exciting. Because a lot of times, especially with online programs, you don't get this type of individualization, the type of program that you want to go into.

Dr. Laura Dudley (05:04):

Yeah, I think it's one of the things that makes our program really unique. Uh, not only do we have a seven year history of providing online instruction, but we have a 40 plus year of providing instruction period in applied behavior analysis. And we really draw upon that history and the philosophy of our program that was in place in 1976 remains present in our program today. You know, we really see that applied behavior analysis is the application of the science of behavior for socially significant problems. And that underlying philosophy, uh, that was present in our program in 1976 remains there today.

Shauna Costello (05:47):

Well and I think it speaks to the program as well that, I mean, you graduated from, like you said, the MABA program as well. So you coming back and really making sure that it's to those ideals is, is something, I mean, it's, that shows something as well. So that's really exciting. And you know what so, with it being online people are probably wondering, okay, who are the faculty that are involved? Who are they going to get to see?

Dr. Laura Dudley (06:13):

So I'm of course, a full time faculty member as the program director for the applied behavior analysis programs. My colleague, dr. Nicole Davis is also a full time faculty member for our program, uh, dr. Davis and I are located on campus. We have offices right on campus in the department of applied psychology. And, um, you know, we are, we try to make ourselves fully accessible to students. Uh, any student who either lives in Boston, or maybe it's just passing through visiting who has an opportunity to come to campus, we always invite them to do so. And, um, so we do, uh, you know, try to, um, you know, have that open door policy to any student in our program. In addition to dr. Davis and myself, we also have about five additional part time faculty for our program.

Dr. Laura Dudley (07:06):

And they are just phenomenal. I really can't say enough about our part time faculty. They are the backbone of our program. Um, two of the faculty members are living in California and that's dr. Kenyon and dr. Braga-Kenyon. They also happened to be married and they also went through the MABA program. So, you know, again, we have those roots of the program that, um, they've been there from almost from the beginning. And so they, they to really, um, are invested in our program and, um, uh, really committed to providing top notch education to our students. Um, we have, uh, dr. Lepreme also in our program, dr. Williams, dr. Roux. Um, we also have faculty who are teaching practicum courses as well as our core courses. So, um, you know, a number of faculty who are not local to Boston, but who, um, again, make themselves accessible to students, maybe in a virtual format versus a face to face format. Um, but again, I really do feel that our part time faculty are just integral to our program into, and to our student success.

Shauna Costello (08:18):

And what does that program look like? Because sometimes people wouldn't when they see, you know, an online program and then they see an MS attached to it as well. Um, they might be a little like, wait, how do they, how do they make sure that they're getting, you know, that S in there? So what are, you know, some of the courses that they're going to be taking and what, what are the expectations of the, of the different programs?

Dr. Laura Dudley (08:45):

So it is a master of science program, and it is very much grounded in science because we're verified by the association for behavior analysis international. Um, all of our coursework is designed to meet their requirements in terms of content that is needed to sit for the BCBA exam. Um, like all verified programs. We, we, um, adhere to those standards. And so our instruction is very much tailored towards those standards. Um, but again, as I said earlier, you know, we do, um, really teach students about the applicability of applied behavior analysis to so many different socially significant behaviors and issues. And so when students are going through our courses, they're not just learning about the application to, um, maybe providing instruction to, um, a student with a disability, though. They are learning about that. But they're also learning about here's a study that shows the applicability of a token economy within a prison system, for example. So we really try to show the breadth of the application of our science in our courses.

Shauna Costello (09:58):

Yeah. And that's ideal because I know that, I mean, I'm interested. I, I, one of those people that likes to have their fingers in lots of different pots. So I love learning about all of the different applications as well. And you mentioned there are some practicum courses as well. So I know that some of your students are probably, I mean, well, we know some of your faculty are not, but some of your students are probably not in the Boston area. So what does the practicum requirements looks like? And you know what I mean, where are some of your students getting those experiences from?

Dr. Laura Dudley (10:35):

So we offer an elective intensive practicum sequence. Um, and I think it is one of the things that makes our program unique. So not only do we offer it, uh, we also don't require it. So no, we recognize that some students are in a situation where maybe they're working in an environment where there's an onsite BCBA, who is willing and able to supervise them. And if that's the case, then they can opt to get the hours on their own. Um, of course currently that would be under the category of independent field work, though. There are, these categories are changing and the requirements are changing. Um, if however, a student is not in that situation, or if a student just prefers to have supervision from a faculty member, which we often find, then they can enroll in our practicum courses. And what happens when they do that is they find a site.

Dr. Laura Dudley (11:31):

And oftentimes it's a site where they're already working, where they can be doing behavior analytic work, and they receive supervision from a Northeastern faculty member, our practicum courses cap at five students. And each week a student who's enrolled in practicum meets twice with their faculty member once, individually, and then once in a small group, up to five students. And one semester of intensive practicum can provide a student with up to 375 hours of supervised experience hours. So under the old requirements, or I should say current requirements, two semesters of intensive practicum provides the amount of hours needed to sit for the exam. What's the new requirements go into effect. That's going to double of course. And so we now have four intensive practicum courses, whereas previously we only had two. And so students can take four semesters of intensive practicum and receive the hours they need to sit for the exam if approved

Shauna Costello (12:30):

Well, and that's exciting because, um, I know that a lot of times, like that can be hard to find too, even like finding a supervisor. So having that option, you know what I mean, to have one of the faculty be your supervisor. Um, I know that that can be a huge weight lifted off the shoulders.

Dr. Laura Dudley (12:52):

It's one of the biggest questions, or I should actually say it's one of the most frequently asked questions that I get from applicants to our program. They want to know more about how to gain supervised experience hours. And, you know, of course the requirements are very rigorous and a bit complex. And so we try to kind of walk people through those requirements. We do have a very comprehensive handbook, um, supervised experience handbook that we share with students once they enroll in our program, just so that they can really understand what their options are in terms of accruing experience hours. You know, another thing we find is that sometimes students circumstances change. So a student might enroll in our program and maybe they're in a situation where they can get the hours on their own, but then maybe six months later, they find themselves in a new employment situation where they don't have that option.

Dr. Laura Dudley (13:43):

And so when that happens, they're very thankful that they are in our program because now we can give them that option of taking practicum. So we're trying to be sensitive to changing circumstances. Of course, we're all experiencing very different circumstances right now. So we are really trying to be flexible and provide students with that option. Um, our practicum courses, students take our practicum course from all over the country and all over the world. So we have students who are participating remotely, uh, in our practicum courses from all over the place and, um, having, having very positive experiences in the practicum course,

Shauna Costello (14:23):

And that's really exciting. Um, and where some of where some of your students, like, what are some of their experiences in practicum and do they vary? Are they mostly in like the applied settings or do you see some variants and where they're able to get some of their experience?

Dr. Laura Dudley (14:41):

I'd say the majority of our students are getting their supervised experience hours in an applied setting. Um, some work for clinics, some provide home services, some work in schools. Um, there are some exceptions, but I would say probably the majority are working in applied educational settings.

Shauna Costello (14:59):

No, that's great. So do the students get research experience while they're there? Is that something, because I know that, you know, your history with presenting at conferences and things like that, um, what are some of the research other than, you know, classes and journal reads and things like that, what are some of the experiences that your students are getting with apply even applied research or, or anything along those lines?

Dr. Laura Dudley (15:29):

Yeah. So when we moved from an on ground to an online format, um, research requirements was something that we considered. Um, as I mentioned earlier, one of the big aspects of our program initially was the very rigorous research requirement that was part of the master of science program. So there was a thesis requirement that involved research. And, uh, I'd say the vast majority of the time, at least in my experience was those research theses were being published. So they were very high caliber research projects. Once we moved to an online format, um, we made the decision to make some changes to the requirements in part, because we felt that it would be challenging to be supervising research projects, uh, remotely. So that was, that was one of our concerns. Another reason is that our program was growing. So the number of students that were going through the program made it difficult to maintain those same, um, same requirements.

Dr. Laura Dudley (16:30):

And so the shift that we made was from a research thesis to a capstone, um, portfolio. So what students now do is throughout the program, they are assembling, um, we call them an E portfolio, but it's an electronic portfolio that is a reflection of work that they've done throughout the program. So within each course, they are, uh, working on seminal assignments that could then go into their portfolio. So they're designing, um, a program to teach someone a new skill. They are, um, designing a functional analysis condition. They are graphing data. Um, they are, uh, summarizing and interpreting preference assessment data just to give a few examples. Um, and so that would then go into their professional portfolio that they can then share with employers or others that they think would benefit from sharing that with, um, in terms of research opportunities, we do offer research opportunities to students, but it's not a requirement of the program.

Dr. Laura Dudley (17:40):

Um, so we have a research team. We have research teams within the department of applied psychology that students are, um, invited to on if they are interested, of course, their participation in part depends on whether they are local to Boston or not. So for example, if there is a research team that is collecting data within a public school classroom, and someone wants to participate on that team, but they live in North Carolina, they're not going to be able to be part of the data collection, but maybe they can be part of the data analysis. So people's roles on these various research teams would really depend on where they're participating from. And then finally, some of our courses do have, um, built into them opportunities to hone research and presentation skills. So for example, we have a course, um, that looks at learning that involves a poster. So students put together a research poster as part of that class. Um, and we have had students who've gone on to present at conferences with those posters.

Shauna Costello (18:45):

And I found that that was one of, you know, one of the most, um, one of the most beneficial things for me too, was getting that type of experience with putting poster together and also presenting. And I think it's really neat that yes, it's an online program, but you can really individualize it to what the students are really looking for. They have the capstone option where if they're going to, you know, say they're going into an applied setting and they want to work on, you know, the applied research and focusing on what they're going to be doing after they're done, that's perfect. But then they have that opportunity to, if they are in the area, they can jump on to research. Or even if they're not quite in the area, they can still have the opportunity to jump onto some research that's happening just in a different way. So just that ability to really individualize that your students' experiences is, is ideal. I love hearing that because I mean, that's what our field is all about anyway, but, um, making sure, like you guys are making sure that your students have every opportunity that they want no matter where they're located. So that's really good to hear. Um, and so what does the application process look like for you guys?

Dr. Laura Dudley (20:13):

So it's an online application and if you visit our program website, there is an apply now button. So it's fairly easy to find. And, um, what you, what you'll do if you plan to apply to our program is you fill out an application form and you also, uh, write a purpose statement that I always recommend includes what drew you to the field of applied behavior analysis, what you plan to do with the degree and you know, why Northeastern those are the three main areas that I, that I suggest that applicants touch upon in their personal statement. We also are looking for three references and, um, also of course, official transcripts, we do not require GREs for admission to our program. Oftentimes students, or I should say, applicants will ask me if it's required that they have previous coursework or experience working in the field of applied behavior analysis. And what I tell applicants is that, of course, that's great when applicants have that, but it's not a requirement for entry into our program. Um, you know, our first couple of courses in the program in particular, we really see as being very concept heavy. And, um, so we feel that our program trains, trains individuals in the field and in, in those foundational concepts. So if you feel like you don't necessarily have a lot of background in applied behavior analysis, we, we say that that's okay.

Shauna Costello (21:47):

And do you guys have, um, are you, do you guys do interview process as well, or is it just a, you know, a review? Are you, um, are you having like zoom interviews? Um, what does that interview process and acceptance process look like?

Dr. Laura Dudley (22:05):

So in certain cases we do set up a virtual, um, interview and again, that's, that's really individualized. So there might be a particular situation where we'd like to hear a little bit more about a candidate, in which case we might set up a, an online interview with that person, but we don't normally do that with all applicants. Usually we feel that we can get a really good feel for the breadth of the applicant, their interests, their background, just based on the materials that they submit. So it's not every case that we would do that, but in some cases where we feel like we need a little bit more information, we might do that. Um, we use a rolling admission system. So as soon as an application is complete in our system, it gets reviewed by our admissions team and our Bouve grad office would reach out to them with a decision within a week or two of them submitting all of their materials.

Dr. Laura Dudley (22:59):

It really is a pretty quick turnaround, um, on our end, hopefully it's intended to be a quick turnaround students can apply at any time, but you have to apply if it's for the fall, you must apply by August 1st. And if it's for spring entry, you must apply by December 1st. Um, and that's not necessarily getting all of your materials in. You just have to submit what you have. It's okay. A couple of things trickle in a few days later, as long as you've clicked on that submit button by either August 1st or December 1st, then you are in our system and we will review your application as soon as it's complete.

Shauna Costello (23:37):

Good, and that's so good to know. I'm glad you, and I'm glad you said the dates in there as well, because that was going to be one of my questions too. Um, and I know that, you know, that everything is online except for, you know, some of the locals, but, um, and this is kind of even a personal question for me because Boston is on my to visit list, especially watching the Bruins in the garden, um, preferably against the red wings. But um, what is Boston like? Like if somebody comes to either visit or, you know, if they are in, I mean, if they're in the area, they're more familiar with it, but I mean, what is the universe? I mean, what is the campus like, what is, what is the surrounding area like? What can, what could they expect if they did actually come to Boston?

Dr. Laura Dudley (24:27):

Yeah. You know, our program is a fully online program and we do have students participating from as far away as India or the UAE, but we also have students who live right down the street. So we do have a mix of local students, as well as students who are quite remote from campus, the students who are local do come to campus and they do take advantage of the resources that are at their they do take it, they do take advantage of the resources that are available to them as Boston residents or somewhat near Boston residents. Um, so they can get a Husky card, which is our student ID card that gives them entry into the library and other buildings and events on campus. Um, we have a phenomenal, uh, fitness center at Northeastern. So, you know, we always encourage students, if you live somewhere near campus, come, come get your ID card, come use our campus resources. And also of course, come meet with us, come, come spend some time with us on campus. Um, Boston is a really unique, I think city, um, it's not as large as some other cities, but it does have that city feel to it. And it's very historic of course has many universities in addition to Northeastern, which is such a plus. Um, you know, I can, um, I'm within walking distance of colleagues from other universities that I might be interested in collaborating with. So, um, that, that college feel is definitely here in Boston. And Northeastern specifically has a really unique campus in that we are right in the heart of Boston. And yet you can be in certain parts of campus where there are Adirondack chairs and koi ponds and a volleyball net. And you have no idea that you're in the middle of Boston. So it's, it's kind of a, it's kind of a fun campus. And then Boston in general, I think is just a really great, great city with really good public transportation and events when we're not self isolating, of course, that people can attend.

Shauna Costello (26:35):

Yeah. And I mean, I lived, I lived downtown Detroit for years and it kind of has that same small, big city feel because I mean, Detroit, I mean, it's a big city and Boston is probably bigger than Detroit, but, um, but yeah, it has that, I don't know. You can still feel a really good sense of community, even if you're in a big city. And I always like to make sure that people know that. Um, and like I said,

Dr. Laura Dudley (27:03):

We also,

Shauna Costello (27:03):

Yeah, go ahead.

Dr. Laura Dudley (27:03):


Shauna Costello (27:04):

No go ahead.

Dr. Laura Dudley (27:05):

Another thing I always recommend is that you take advantage of the sports events either in Boston proper, or just Northeastern sporting events. So our hockey teams have been bean pot champions, which is sort of a local bragging rights that we have here in Boston. Um, I remember I was at a, at a hockey game. It was a playoff game, a men's hockey game, and I was coming out of the restroom of the game and this was out in Worcester. It wasn't even on campus. And, um, I ran into a student ABA student as I was, who was coming into the restroom as I was leaving. So it was really fun to see that, um, our students were, you know, engaging and enjoying Northea- being a Northeastern student and having some fun.

Shauna Costello (27:48):

Yeah. And that's really exciting because, um, I know that, you know, from my college experience I did go on campus, but that same kind of thing, um, hockey at Western Michigan is huge!

Dr. Laura Dudley (28:02):

Yeah. I guess I don't have to tell you about that.

Shauna Costello (28:04):

Oh yes. I know. I'm just saying I fully understand that cause, um, yeah, that's the same thing that hockey at Western is a very, very big thing. So,

Dr. Laura Dudley (28:14):

Oh and actually the, um, the sports and conditioning coach for the Northeastern men's hockey program went through the applied behavior analysis master's program. He was very interested in applying the science of behavior to improve sports performance. So we really, our program sort of likes to take a little bit of credit for the success that the men's hockey team has seen over the last couple of seasons. We feel like maybe we, we played a role in that indirectly.

Shauna Costello (28:39):

Definitely I a hundred percent believe that, but no, that's really, that's really exciting because, um, and I mean that not only shows like how applicable the science is, but also, I mean, the people, other people in the university are like this program is really cool. I'm going to go take it. And that's so exciting. Um, that's yeah, that's really cool. Um, and another thing I just like to mention too, is we've talked to, you know, a couple other schools in Massachusetts. This is about as far East in Massachusetts, as you can go,

Dr. Laura Dudley (29:15):

Unless you're in the ocean.

Shauna Costello (29:16):

Unless you're in the ocean, but it's still, um, if you're not quite familiar with the area, it's still very close to a lot of things. Um, I know that I have friends that live in, in Rhode Island where they're like, next time you come, we'll go to Boston. I was like, okay. Um, because they're very close to it. And, um, I actually just learned on trivia yesterday or the day before. I don't know when it was that Boston and Providence are the two closest capitals state capitals in the country. So I just learned that. Um, but is there, I know we've covered program history and overview and the faculty and some of the practicum experiences and research opportunities, application process, the area. Is there anything else that you want to make sure that we cover and that people know about Northeastern?

Dr. Laura Dudley (30:17):

Yeah. I think the only thing that I didn't mention that I had wanted to make sure that people knew, um, especially given that we are in a situation now where people are rushing to put instruction online. Um, so I think it's important to know that our online instruction, uh, we spent, uh, months really close to a year really making sure that our online instruction was top quality before we started our online program. Um, so I think that there is a differentiation to be made between really quality online learning and this sort of migration to an online platform that's happening right now. Um, so I think that's important to note that if, if, if students it's important to note that if someone were to go through our program, they would be receiving really quality instruction and, um, they can feel confident in that. The other thing I want to mention, just because I think there is starting to be more and more of an understanding of what synchronous instruction versus asynchronous instruction means and what are the benefits of one versus the benefits of another. So I think it's important to highlight that our program is primarily asynchronous. So typically students receive the materials that they need at the beginning of the week, and then it's expected that they complete all assigned readings that they view, uh, lectures and videos.

Dr. Laura Dudley (31:42):

And sometimes we assign audio podcasts and things like that, um, so that they are, they're expected to complete all of that as well as any assignments or quizzes by the end of the week. So having said that we do also offer synchronous opportunities within our classes. So for example, I teach a course called applied programming one and two weeks from now, we will be holding synchronous video discussions where students sign up for discussion time. And then we come together in small groups and we discuss concepts that are assigned for that week. Um, so there is a mix of both asynchronous instruction, as well as synchronous opportunities. As I mentioned earlier, we have students from all over the globe really in our program. And so it's not feasible for some students to participate synchronously on a regular basis, but we do like to provide students with that opportunity, um, because we know that that's important for some students to be able to meet real time with other students and with faculty members and to have those kinds of discussions.

Shauna Costello (32:47):

And that's a very good clarification to make because yes, more people are probably going to, I mean, in general, a lot of people look for online programs, but now, you know, even more programs are moving to online. Um, so it's really important to do your research. What's what are the school's history? How long have they been doing this? Um, really ask questions and this is something I always ask as well. Um, if it's okay with you, I like to include your email so that people, if they have questions they can reach out to you.

Dr. Laura Dudley (33:23):


Shauna Costello (33:23):

Um, and yeah, don't be afraid to reach out, ask questions, make sure that the program that you're looking at or going to apply to is really the program that's right for you. Um, because I mean, I'll be the first to tell you, you guys, we've, this is however many universities now. They're all very, very different, but you can find one that works for you. Um, and there's so many different opportunities, especially here at Northeastern. You know, if you're in, if you're in that the Boston area there's options for, you know, re like hands on research, even though it is an online program and make sure that if you do want to individualize your program, that the university you're seeking to go to is can do that. And so, you know, Northeastern can and does do that already for their students. Um, so, I mean, thank you so much. I mean, I don't have any other questions for you. It was, I mean, it was wonderful hearing about the program, because again, like, I like to say you can only learn so much from a website and, um, all of this, all of this individualization that you do for your students isn't necessarily on the website. So it's, to me, it's been a pleasure learning more about the program. And I thank you so much for joining me today and talking.

Dr. Laura Dudley (34:50):

It was a pleasure. It was a pleasure coming and talking to you today, Shauna. Thanks for having me.

Shauna Costello (34:56):

Thank you for listening to operant innovations. And as always, if you have questions, comments, feedback, or suggestions, please reach out to us at


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